As I walked around the room watching my students take the “BIG Test” at the end of the year, I could see the frustration and confusion in their faces. I just didn’t understand why. They were one of my best classes and were well prepared. My belief was that if I prepared them in knowledge, the test would take care of itself; I never taught to the test.
I did however take a look at the test and what I saw made my blood boil to a huge issue with so much riding on these tests.
Lets see how you do: Problem on 4th grade test.
Directions: Estimate (Simple enough, right?)
37 x 8= ___ A. 400 B. 240 C. 320 D. 32
If one can’t see that there is a problem then they are blind to the fact to show understanding means to be able to explain their process and answer. As an adult, our thinking process has already been skewed by our experiences. Most will say that the answer is obviously C, and they would be correct by the test’s standards. However, why even have A or B as a possibility? The directions simply state to “Estimate”- it does not ask for the “best estimate”.
For 4th graders, it is simply wrong for test makers to place the “correct answer” along with the “next best answer”. Not only does this confuse the child, but also produces feelings of anxiety over which answer to choose. I have had plenty of students who could explain choosing answer A because 40 x 10= 400 would be an acceptable answer! Even though most would consider answer B wrong, a student does show ability and understanding of estimating by explaining that 30 x 8= 240 and the real answer would be higher.
Multiple Choice tests were developed to help save time and effort in grading. However, they do a disservice by not allowing the student to explain their thinking process and for the teacher to hear it, and help to correct it if necessary! Yet, this is one of the prime methods of testing and we are determining both student and teacher evaluations of understanding on them? I am not arguing that C is not the “Best Answer”, however, our concern should be whether or not the student can explain the process, while getting the right answer. Does a Multiple Choice test accomplish what is necessary to identify strengths and weaknesses? A. Yes, B. No, C. Never has, Never will.
- Test Hacks: How to Guess Like a Pro on Multiple Choice Tests (hackcollege.com)
- Tips on creating a Multiple Choice Test (rainersularte2011.wordpress.com)
- America’s Dumbest Idea: Creating a Multiple-Choice Test Generation (worldcreativity.wordpress.com)
- Researchers apply Benford’s law to physics exams to see if they can do better than chance (phys.org)